A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (7:11-17)
Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.
This is a stupendous Gospel reading! Try to imagine it dramatically. On the one side, you have Jesus with a large crowd of people including his disciples. On the other, you have a dead man leading a procession of another large crowd of people coming out of the town, Nain.
We see two crowds approaching one another. At the head of one is Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, the New Adam. And he is coming to meet the other, led by mortal man, this young man, a symbol of the Old Adam. It is like an image of the end of time. Jesus coming in glory with humanity, or the Church, redeemed in heaven along with Him. He comes to raise to life his beloved dead brothers and sisters. And He does it not just as God, but as God made man, as God made man who conquered death in His person by Himself dying.
Jesus is moved deeply with compassion for the brokenness which death incurs on our most treasured relationships, in this case, a widowed mother and her only son (possibly particularly moving for Jesus because it images his own widowed Mother who will see Her only Son die before Her).
It’s as if His movement of compassion is a cry: “I have not created you, my beloved men and women, for death! So, arise!”
What is striking is that the voice of Jesus reaches beyond death to wherever this young man was. Jesus can see where we each are, whether alive or dead, because to Him, our Creator and Lover, we are all alive. How exquisite is His love! His voice penetrates beyond the grave and restores the life and voice of the young man. Just imagine that! Who among us would not want to hear again the voice of a loved one who has gone? How often in the dark night do we yearn to hear that voice!
And so, when in obedience to the voice of Jesus, the young man sits up, he begins to talk. Hearing his voice, what must his mother have felt! His voice would reassure her that is was him. Jesus restores a son to his mother, a mother to her son. He restores not just communication but communion in love between them. And is this not what eternity is all about, the everlasting communion in love of all who are loved by Jesus and who have loved Jesus and who have done so in loving their nearest and dearest, their neighbour and even their enemies, now turned friends?
And where was the young man that Jesus knew where to reach him with his voice and command? Surely, he had passed to the crowd behind Jesus. He was already with Jesus in the heavenly crowd. But, to witness to His power over death, over the brokenness of communion between human beings, over the drama and tragedy of separation and abandonment, Jesus as it were sends the young man back to the crowd of the mortal, back to where his mother was, back to a mortal life which he, the young man, would again in the future have to shed.
And so it is when each of us dies. We often say of a person who has died, “God called him to himself.” Yes! He did not call us to die, but to life with Himself beyond death. His call is always to life!
So, do not be afraid to die, for when you die, you are simply being called to a life where there will be no more death. A line in a Psalm reads, “Your love is better than life.” To hear the final, personal call of the love of Jesus to go to him: this is Christian death. It is not mere dissolution, annihilation. The grave is not a dead end, a cul de sac. For even our bodies will, in the final coming of Jesus, spit on the grave and rise glorious to be with that heavenly crowd and with its beloved Lord.
Heed nothing and no-one that would divert your heart from that goal. As you leave behind the shout of sorrow of those from whom you depart, you cross the river to the crescendo of the voices who have loved you and who exult that you come to join them! And in good time, the sorrow of those left behind will seep away as each of them, too, crosses that river.
No ideology, no amount of gold or silver, no fleeting joy, no matter how permanent it may seem in life’s little day, no human being can do for you what the voice of Jesus will do. So be of good courage and strong hope. You will not be disappointed.